Saturday, October 26, 2013
He was running for his life, away from home, and suddenly was filled with an idea that popped into his head on the spur of the moment. And, how must he have felt when this kooky notion actually worked? We can read David’s thoughts, rather than try to imagine them, as he records his feelings in Psalm 34’s first three verses, which have been put to music in “Glorify the Lord with Me” by Ken Young. David was still a youngster really, but with followers and a reputation belying his age, due in large measure to his defeat of the giant Goliath (see the 1625 masterpiece by Tanzio da Varallo here). Nevertheless, he might have seemed like a young punk to some people, namely the king who kept him on the run until his own death. Yet, David wouldn’t act like a guy who necessarily looked for a way out of this chronic condition…how come?
David was really at the beginning of a journey as he scurried to Gath following the threats from King Saul. He was perhaps in his late teens or early 20’s, and was the anointed future king. He was already a hero, bathed in the glory he’d earned in battle. Yet, his was also the heart of a poet-musician, with a harp as comfortable in his grasp as a sword. He won others’ hearts with his own heart, even calming the jealousy of Saul for a time with his melodies. He listened to the Spirit’s voice inside himself, obviously. So, as he jumped from the frying pan (Saul and his home in what would later be called Jersusalem) he found himself in the fire in Gath, where another king who knew of this youth alarmed David. He must have thought he’d be safe there when he chose it as his escape hatch, only to quickly surmise the opposite. That’s when he reacted with one of the more unorthodox behaviors of his young life. ‘Act like a nut’, something whispered in his brain. To a guy used to gracefully wielding a weapon or a musical instrument, this must have seemed like a desperate ploy, yet he obeyed. It worked! With froth running down his chin, David’s escape hatch opened again, showing that God’s rescue can emerge in a most eccentric way that defies reason. You think that’s by accident? If it had been a more conventional method, how might even the most devoted follower have greeted the result? This was one of the first getaways for this fugitive-poet, who’d experience so many more confrontations and providential rescues that he must have indeed felt he was blessed even while being chased. God could be counted upon in the most dire circumstance, with a method quite unique to His nature.
One wonders if Saul ever heard the words that David composed in Psalm 34. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that David’s trust in God solidified that day in Gath, perhaps more than ever before. It was significant for him, since he put together words to remember the moment. Is it too much to suggest that David played his life over the next several years to rediscover moments like that one in Gath? He was hounded by Saul through many episodes, yet David sought no end to his adversary’s life, even when he had opportunities (1 Samuel 24 and 26). No, David’s obedience to his divine Protector was true, even when it didn’t make sense to his cohort. Maybe the insanity act in Gath had crystallized something for him about life and its Creator. He is also Controller, Preserver. That realization could make someone bold, fearless even to a fault. “..extol the Lord at all times.” You’re not crazy for believing this, but you are if you don’t.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Was he thinking these words might be a song someday? The words that Paul wrote were certainly a joyful exclamation, as he proclaimed “There is No Condemnation” in the mid-1st Century, but he was no songwriter. The words don’t even rhyme! He was well-known for his travels throughout ancient southeastern European continent and the difficulties he’d endured as he delivered the message. But, could he have suspected that the people to whom he was writing would finally meet him as a result of an even more challenging episode? This guy was really convicted with the words he wrote, and fearless of his future, seemingly. And yet, the words came from a heart that was struggling mightily, a human yo-yo.
The great apostle who was named was Saul when born in Tarsus (current-day southeastern Turkey) was uniquely prepared as God’s tool by the time he thought about visiting Rome, some 50-55 years after his birth. He was a Hebrew believer, but from outside of the Holy Land, giving him a link to both Jews and non-Jews. He’d been a believer in the Christ for about 22 years, though much of what he wrote, even at this time, tells us he was still fighting uphill against his disappointments as a follower of the Lord. How can a guy who’d travelled on three missionary journeys still feel inadequate? Paul’s recorded thoughts that immediately precede the words of this song are some of the most challenging and tormented that we read of him. That group of words describes a man tossed to and fro on waves of a moral struggle. Some of us contemporaries call it the ‘do-do’ chapter of the Roman letter, or maybe you’ve heard it described as Paul’s ‘Romans 7 gap’ – an account of a fellow who wants to do what he seems unable to do, somehow. Certainly this man might have had reason to say these words some 20 years earlier, when his virulent opposition to Christianity just a few years before would have still been fresh in his memory. His Jewish upbringing, legalism at maximum pitch, still rang in his ears, perhaps. ‘…for the law…’ and ‘..from the law..’. You can sense he knew from where he’d come. To have been on the other side of his conversion by a mere 22 years, could he have felt this salvation in some sense was by just a whisker’s edge? Maybe, if he’d been trying to earn it. He could count two decades on the right side, three and a half decades on the wrong side. How many had he arrested or killed, versus how many had he led to safety? If he used this calculus, he had no hope. For Paul, though, he knew Christ blotted out his balance sheet and the accompanying tick marks in the plus and minus columns.
He was writing to teach the Romans, who he’d not yet met, what he knew about this faith’s fundamentals. Other groups to whom he wrote were people who’d he’d already visited. Not the Romans, who he needed to greet in written form initially. So, he wanted them to understand who he was, and what he believed. Could some of them be legalists, like Paul once was? Paul wanted to visit them soon, so he could imagine what he wanted to say in person to encourage them, probably. ‘I’m an up-and-down guy, but I know I’m saved, despite the fight in which I find myself’. He’d be arrested and suffer through a thorny journey before making it to Rome in the next few years. So, Paul was used to being nicked, and that wouldn’t change. But he felt free. That wouldn’t change, either.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
This one had not one, but at least two authors whose identities we know not. And, the first one preceded the second one by probably at least 1,000 years, if not many more (perhaps as far back as Moses – see picture here). So, what must these poets-composers been thinking when they encapsulated their thoughts in “Come Into His Presence”, a brief but meaningful chorus? The sum of the intentions and emotions of a worshipper who approaches Him is one of gladness, according to these two people, an unusual attitude compared to how we often see mere humans who enter His presence in Biblical history. So, is this a mature or instead an unrealistic thought? And, was it fair for the 2nd writer to add to the words of the 1st, since he couldn’t possibly have been thinking of exactly the same person as the original composer? Think it over before you mouth these words the next time.
One was a Jew, and the other was obviously a Christian, separated by many centuries. The original words of the first writer, minus the last line that lifts the name of Jesus, may have come from any of the Levites, tabernacle or temple worship musicians, or even Moses, or perhaps David, spanning an approximate 1,000-year period – from as far back as 1,500 B.C (Moses’ time) to 300 B.C. (when the Psalms were collected as a set by temple worshippers, in the post-Exilic era). Perhaps its contemporary form is closest to Psalm 100, which is thought to be the conclusion of one group, Psalm 93-100, most of which are called “orphan” Psalms – no author identified. So, perhaps the entire group was composed by the same anonymous source? His purpose?: to call fellow believers to the corporate worship. This writer must have had several encounters with God in life and in worship, perhaps to include awe and fear at first, mingled with delight and gratitude as he grew in his experience with Him. What must the second composer, centuries later, have thought of the song’s message? One must conclude that the praise emotion of the original writer was shared by the second, and built upon as the writer realized the Christ whom the first composer had awaited had indeed arrived. He paved the way, this Jesus whom the second composer lauds in the last line of this ancient hymn. He doesn’t re-write the original song, he builds upon it – a theme that Christ himself delivered. Perhaps the second writer had captured this example by his Lord, as he thought about his own song-writing effort here.
No story is known for this song, but the Biblical background used in the above is obtained in the New International Version Study Bible, general editor Kenneth Barker, 1985, copyright The Zondervan Corporation.
Friday, October 4, 2013
The “father of English hymnody” stuck to his form in 1719 when he wrote “How Shall the Young Secure Their Hearts”. Isaac Watts, the 45-year old pastor of a church in London, may have had a reputation as a mold-breaker, but that was in fact his established pattern, his form. It was not new to himself, as he took after his father. Having been mentored early in his own life, this hymnist carried on what he had learned, so that his instructional trademark for the young has resonance even today.
Watts was in the midst of his ministry and his hymn-writing life when he penned his thoughts about young people’s education in 1719. He’d been writing verses from his elementary school-age years, so his compositional prose was well-practiced, even if its nonconformity had earned him a difficult path at times. He’d been unable to attend either of the premier schools at Oxford or Cambridge because of his views (nonconformists did not abide by the governance of the church of England [Anglicans]), so he attended instead Dissenting Academy in what is now London. He believed in singing from the Psalms, like Anglicans, but he chose to interpret them in a Christian perspective. His 1719 production Psalms of David showed his train of thought at the time, revealing the window through which he was peering when he composed “How Shall the Young…”. Its words read like Isaac was spending a lot of time mulling over Psalm 119, even if it was not one of his ancestral songwriter David’s compositions. Like the great psalm and longest book of the Bible, Watts employed various synonyms of the word ‘commandment’ to call the worshipper to God’s side. ‘Instruction’, ‘law’, ‘Word’, ‘precepts’, and ‘rule’, are sprinkled through Watts’ verses, and the three verses of Watt’s composition that we sing most often today read like paraphrases of verses 9, 105, and 142 of Psalm 119. His evident care for children, which comes through in so many of his other hymns, is likewise obvious in this 1719 endeavor. Quizzically, the only thing one might say is ‘Who were the children?’, since Watts apparently had none of his own offspring.
Isaac Watts must have touched lots of children in the church community in which he lived and worked in the early 18th Century. Watts had moved to the estate of the late Thomas Abney and his wife Mary some seven years earlier in 1712, due to poor health. The estate and its occupants proved to be a tonic for Watts, who devoted himself more completely to hymn-writing. Three of the widow Mary’s children were undoubtedly known and cared for by Watts, including one daughter, Elizabeth, and Mary with whom Watts lived for many years, including in 1719. To the Abneys' children Watts must have seemed like a special, pedagogical uncle who was their mentor. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone connected to the Holy One to be your intimate advisor? Hey, I think I sense that this is already true! How about you?
See these sites for biography on composer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Watts
See this site for explanation of Watts’ nonconformist background: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonconformist